The little girl hopped up and down on her toes, her unruly mass of dark curls bouncing off her sun burned shoulders. She pointed to the biggest stuffed animal in the tiny stand and squeaked as her Dad tossed another ball in attempts to win it for her. She squealed when the plastic ball hit the target getting her closer and closer to the hugenormous, pink, elephant that was hung up in the corner by its trunk. She wrapped around her Daddy's leg and grinned—a smile that was a mirror image of her other Daddy—except for the gaps where her two front teeth had been. One of them Chris had pulled for her while she whined epically about how horrible it would be, then didn't even notice once he tugged it free. The other was knocked out when her brother accidently executed a perfect Sweet Chin Music to her mouth. Her lower lip still sported a tiny bruise from that incident, but she'd since repaid her brother with a kick to the groin—less technical but just as lethal.
"Come on Daddy, ya almost got it!" Her blue eyes concentrated hard on her Dad's face as he set it in concentration on that little target.
"Come on Matty, if you don't get it this time, I'll show you how a real man does it." Chris chuckled and shifted the weight of his sleeping son in his arms. The little boy murmured agitatedly and wiggled around before licking his cotton candy sugared lips and situating his head back on Chris' shoulder. Chris stroked his hair and watched Matt land another shot right in the middle of the target. At that one Matt winced a little and pin-wheeled his arm and rubbed at the shoulder a bit.
"Getting old?" Chris joked, smirking.
"Not as old as you assclown." Matt shot back.
"Language." Chris warned, stepping on Matt's toe.
"One more!" Their daughter squealed in delight, her glittering cobalt eyes glued to the stuffed pink elephant which she had deemed as her prize. She hopped up and down again, unable to contain her excitement, the unlatched strap of her overall-shorts flapped noisily up and down.
"Don't worry kid, Dad's got this." Matt said, grinning down at his daughter and rumpling her curls. He flicked his eyes towards Chris and gave him a wink. "Ya'll watch this now, this is the big money shot…"
The ball flew forward and Chris and their little girl held their breath waiting to hear the clang as the Amazing Matt Irvine-Hardy scored his daughter the biggest damn stuffed elephant ever created. Clunk!
A high-pitched cheer burst up from the little girl and she threw herself at Matt hugging his legs. Chris let out a whoop and pumped his fist up and down, then slapped Matt on the shoulder victoriously. The carney bent over to snag a bill from someone else and stick it in his apron, and hand them three balls. He glanced at the two men with their twins and then up at the enormous pink creature.
"You want that'n lil girl?"
"Yes, yes!" She practically flew over the barrier but Matt snagged her by a belt loop and gently pulled her back against his legs.
"Yes what?" Matt tilted her chin upwards so she was looking into his face.
The carney hung his smoldering cigarette between his teeth and untied the prize.
"Here y'are darlin'." He handed her the elephant and it practically dwarfed her in size. Her little arms couldn't even fit around it but she tried to hug the stuffing out of it just the same.
"We better get going Matty. It's getting late, and…ug…I really shouldn't have eaten that Bratwurst." Chris burped and hiccupped.
"You smell like onions." Matt shook his head. "You're brushing your teeth before I kiss that." Matt joked, reaching down and plucking the stuffed toy from his daughters arms.
"But Dad!" She whined, her smile instantly morphing into a pout—which was also one-hundred percent Chris-like.
"Relax chick. I'm just gonna carry it to the car for ya." He gave her a little love tap on the bottom and she took off running in the direction of the parking lot, skipping over bundles of chords that made the rides move and flash their colorful lights against the falling darkness. She dodged a couple of teenagers making out and not watching where they were going, then hopped directly into a mud puddle and splashed around in it. "Hey, don't get too far ahead!" Matt called, thinking to himself there are weird-o's out there. He glanced at the lip-locked teens as they passed by and felt a twinge of sadness. Chris shifted their son again and used his free arm to wrap around Matt's waist.
"Look at you…" Chris sighed as he watched the girl stomp and splash mud. A splatter sloshed over her face giving her dirty little freckles.
"What?" She asked innocently, making her pretty eyes wide and chewing her lips.
"You're covered from head to toe in--"
"Chris, it's alright. She's just a kid." Matt said taking her elbow and helping her out of the puddle. Chris cocked an eyebrow at his husband. It was normally Chris being the one to give in way too much, and Matt the one who called him out on it and nagged at him to 'set boundaries' for the kids. Chris just shook his head and looped his arm through Matt's as they walked to the car.
Chris situated his son in the back seat. The boys head lulled over onto his shoulder and he smacked his lips in his sleep and dragged a messy hand through his hair, successfully caramelizing it into crazy spikes.
"My tummy…hurts…" He whined sleepily as Chris buckled the seat belt.
"I know, me too. We'll be home soon." Chris kissed the boys forehead and gave the belt an extra tug to make sure it was tight enough. He rounded the car to find Matt peeling the wet, muddy, tank top off of their daughter. He laid it over his shoulder and then let her lean on it for balance as she stepped out of her shorts with the broken bib-strap.
"Daddy, you see my undie-wear!" She shrieked, flopping onto the ground and letting Matt tug off her encrusted shoes and soaked socks.
"Do you know what we do with little girls who play in the mud?" Chris asked with a grin hung on his face. Matt straightened up and took the messy clothes to the back where he opened the back-hatch and rummaged for a plastic bag to put them in.
"We…tickle 'em!" Chris scooped her up into his arms and she nearly deafened him screaming and wailing with laughter.
By the time he wrangled her into the seat next to her brother—who was slumped over with his mouth hanging open—she had tears rolling down her cheeks and a case of giggles that wouldn't quit.
"Hey!" She shouted, leaning forward in her seat. "Where's my Ellie Elephant!"
"I'm gettin' it tooshclown!" Chris got the elephant from where Matt had sat it up in the front seat and put it in his daughter lap. He laughed, it completely obscured her.
The ride home was pretty quiet—except for Chris' occasional farting to which Matt made over-exaggerated gagging noises and threatened his husband that he was never buying him fair food again. The kids were in the back asleep and soon they were in the driveway. Chris unloaded the boy and carried him inside while Matt took the little girl complete with the elephant and tucked her into bed. He stayed there watching her a few moments, as she lay there breathing softly, her unruly, curly, hair spread out on the pillow. She looked angelic. Matt sighed, and licked his finger tips, and wiped away the mud-freckles from her face.
"Hey babe." Chris yawned shuffling into the room. He wrapped his arms around Matt's waist from behind and laid his chin on Matt's shoulder. "I put the muddy stuff in the laundry hamper."
Matt didn't answer. His dark eyes just watered up as he watched the serene, contented, face of his daughter and tracked her tiny fingers as they moved gently against the pink fur on her elephant, sleepily petting it.
Matt swallowed hard, his emotions suddenly welling up in his throat.
"Just…I was just thinking…" Matt trailed off biting his lip. "One day that's not going to be me anymore. I'm not going to be the one winning her a prize at the fair, neither will you. She'll have some boy and she'll be hopping up and down like that…hugging onto him…with that angels smile." Matt finished quietly and quickly smeared away the tear that escaped and slithered down his cheek.
"Eh, Matty they're still kiddies. They're only seven."
"Yeah, and tomorrow, she's seventeen." Matts voice started to crack and waver, half with sadness, and half with the swelling protectiveness that tends to bubble up in fathers when they think of such things. "And that boy will win her that damned elephant, and you know when they get back to the car, he's gonna think he won more than a stuffed animal."
"Matt, please…let's not think about that right now." Chris closed his eyes, his head reeling. He pictured some punk with his arm slung around his daughters waist, walking her to the car, and sliding his hand into the pocket of her shorts, touching.
"You know it and I know it. Men are pigs, boys are stupid. He'll want something in return." Matt growled out.
"Matt, no—just no. Look at her…she's not grown up yet. Don't ruin it."
Matt could hear the panic building in Chris' voice and Chris held him closer protectively. Matt reached for Chris' hand and stroked it as they both watched the little girl roll over and kick some of her blankets away.
Chris released Matt and bent down to pick up her covers from the floor. He laid them over her gently and tucked them up to her chin. He stroked her hair out of the way and kissed her forehead, then leaned back into Matt who enveloped him into his arms.
"You're right." Chris sighed. "One day that will happen…unless I buy you a gun. You can sit on the front porch and clean it with a wild gleam in your eye as I sharpen my Samurai sword."
"Right. We'll be sure to scare off any possible dumbasses. No boy will come within miles of this place. We can draw up plans and booby trap the place."
"Sure. But…she's seven. It can wait." Chris yawned again. "Besides, I'm sleepy and that stupid food is working a number on me."
"Remind me to open a window in the bedroom before we go to bed." Matt called after Chris as the blond sauntered towards the doorway.
"Shut up ass—tooshclown." Chris corrected, lowering his voice. Matt smiled and watched his daughter a minute or two longer before following Chris into the bedroom.
That night, Matt Irvine-Hardy dreamed that an army of teen punks were descending upon his lawn…and he and Chris were taking them all down with pink stuffed elephants that had sawed off shotguns for trunks. Matt smiled maniacally in his sleep and mumbled some threat, which sounded Dirty Harry-ish in nature, before he emptied a few more shells into the groin of some horny punk. Next to Matt's sleeping, smiling, form, Chris woke up. He groaned and got up to open a window.